Back in 1976, Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn famously described legendary industrial music act Throbbing Gristle as ‘wreckers of civilisation’. Admittedly, with songs about the Moors Murders and riotous concerts that generated lurid front-page headlines and sparked debates in the House of Commons, the band was happy to admit that they were on a mission to “disrupt things a little”, so such a reaction was maybe to be expected.
Skip forward 37 short years however, and the remaining members of the band would be perfectly justified in using those very words to describe the present day Tory Party, or the entire Coalition Government for that matter; a startling turning of the tables that sees this once notorious enemy of the state occupying the moral high ground, as the nasty party sets about dismantling and wrecking the infrastructure of our civilised society that was built with passion, determination and courage after the Second World War…
But this is 2013 (already the shittest, and most painful year this writer has had to endure), and the likes of Throbbing Gristle are strangely silent in the face of this turbo-charged anarcho-capitalism; but then so is popular culture in general, and this my friends, forms the central tenet of my article here today.
( I should point out that I penned most of this before Bobby Gillespie made similar comments in the NME recently – Ed, he did).
When Margaret Thatcher shuffled off her mortal coil in April to spend all eternity burning in Hell, there was a hitherto dormant public reaction that had lain in slumber since an unknown period sometime between 1995 and 2013. However, the anger, bitterness, pain and frustration foisted upon and felt by families as the Iron Lady set about her neo-liberal experiment, manifested itself in 2013 mainly as a failed attempt by a song from the Wizard of Oz to reach Number 1 on a largely irrelevant ‘hit parade’. Fuck, was that it? Was this the best we could do for a woman responsible for taking Chicago-school economic mumbo jumbo as gospel and plotting a course for the country straight back to the worst conditions of the 1930s, or even worse, Victorian England? Where is this generation’s Shipbuilding? Or Ghost Town?
Under Thatcher, unemployment reached a record 3.6m, though some estimates suggest that the real figure was much higher, and the reaction was highly visible within popular culture. There was a convergence of music, comedy, TV, and literature. The NME in particular, was seen as the anti-establishment articulate mouthpiece of the young, removed from the vertically integrated rigid food chain of the music industry, which is where it found itself post-2000 co-opted by a bunch of corporate cunts under the IPC Ignite! brand. (I once had a job interview for them, and was nearly drowned in the torrent of corporate bullshit).
TV drama, such as Boys from the Black stuff, and even Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, were a clear reaction to the economic and social conditions created by the Tories. But as a child, I remember it was music that had a profound effect; The Specials’ aforementioned Ghost Town, The Jam’s Eton Rifles, and latterly, The The’s Heartland, and Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine. All fantastic expressions of discontent, anger and ire.
By the mid-80s, anti-Tory sentiment had crystallized into a clearly defined musical movement. Bands played benefit gigs for such causes as the striking miners, CND, AIDS, Nelson Mandela, and even local government finance policy (as The Smiths once did), and hatred for the Tories ran so wide and deep that in 1985, the Labour party announced the creation of Red Wedge – a music/art collective endorsed by Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
Culture, and popular music in particular, has been atomised, fractured, splintered, and neutralised, and instead of 19 million watching Top of the Pops on a Thursday night, there’s now six billion digital channels beaming ‘someone feat. someone feat. Calvin Harris’ into your laptop, smart phone, smart TV, or directly into your smart fucking arse. This is an oft-raised point: instead of young people discussing on a Friday morning what Bowie, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, and Kylie had been wearing, or how Orbital wore anti-Poll Tax t-shirts, or Barney Sumner dancing off his head whilst New Order performed Fine Time live, now there is just a fun vacuum filled by porno-lite titillation set to a Guetta-beat. “Hey, did you see Rhianna’s nice pink fanny last night? Fucking mint wasn’t it!”
But even in 1994, there was still an organised and considered response to tiresome right-wing dogma, as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of that year set out to make gatherings of more than 20 people listening to “repetitive beats” illegal! Dance acts such as Autechre, Orbital, The Prodigy, Pop Will Eat Itself, and er…Judge Jules, all provided a united front against the usual cruel Tory-fuckwittery designed specifically to take the joy out of life.
Which brings us back, not neatly, but very, VERY, fucking wearily to 2013 – a year that looks shit just by writing it down on paper. Before this shower got their foot in the door like a bunch of psychotic salesmen, the Guardian ran a piece on how David Cameron, on a charm offensive like a shit Senator Palpatine, had revealed himself, not as a Sith Lord (he’s getting there though), but as a fan of The Smiths and The Jam. Paul Weller responded with puzzlement: “It’s like, which bit didn’t he get?” he said. “It’s strange, but the whole nature of politics has shifted, hasn’t it? The stark contrasts of Thatcherism and socialism have gone”. I disagree; socialism has been misrepresented as communism and something to be resisted, whilst Thatcherism has mutated into something altogether more sinister. As the last vestiges of state-run infrastructure are discredited, tainted, attacked and groomed before being carved up and sold on to the same corporate predators responsible for the chaos and misery of the last few years, popular culture and popular music declines to comment. But then why would it? It has been co-opted, bought, and infiltrated by an elite establishment and their paymasters, hell-bent on continuing this outrageous economic coup d’état.
I remember dancing to Danny Tenaglia’s “Music is the answer” back in 1998. A sentiment we all agreed with then. Once upon a time. But not now. We live in a time where David Cameron holidays in Ibiza whilst his wife attends dance music events, where Minister of State Oliver Letwin demands that
teachers, nurses and doctors should experience more fear of job losses to work harder, whilst he claims tax payers’ money to repair his tennis courts and his Aga cooker. As for Nicholas “Nicky” Fairbarin MP? Soon after making that statement he was arrested for indecent exposure, before succumbing to the bottle in 1995. I live in hope that a similar fate awaits the cast of 2013.